Monday, May 02, 2016
Series Preview: Phillies at Cardinals
Saturday night, I was listening to the Los Angeles Dodgers game on the radio and Charlie Steiner brought up the Phillies. He talked about how Pete Mackanin had all these young kids playing well.
The Phillies have definitely exceeded expectations to start the season. That's nice and all, but it's only because this is still the start of the season.
No one talks about the 2016 Phillies if they've gone 15-10 from May 20 to June 18.
That said, when does this become a real thing? Something more than just a nice start to the season for a bad team.
Let's be honest. The starting rotation is carrying a ton of the lead. Meanwhile four of the current starters - Aaron Nola, Vincent Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff and Adam Morgan - came into the season with 42+ combined starts in their career.
It's hard to imagine them keeping this up.
It's also hard to imagine Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, David Hernandez, Andrew Bailey, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo pitching this effectively for an extended period of time.
Then there is the woeful offense. It's 11th in homers and 10th in stolen bases. Those are the better numbers. It's 14th in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage and 12th in slugging percentage.
It really is unbelievable this team has gotten to 15 wins.
That said, the offense is where we could see some improvement.
Aside from Odubel Herrera, none of the regulars are having anything close to a career year.
Maybe Cameron Rupp. But his OBP is 25 points below last year's.
Cesar Hernandez is hitting just below where you'd expect him to be: .266/.326/.329. Those are all slight drops from last year's .372/.339/.348.
Maikel Franco has been productive, certainly, but he's hitting .258/.310/.452. We probably all expected a bit more than this.
Howard has 5 homers, which puts him on pace for around 30. That would be nice, but he continues to not be able to get on base.
Freddy Galvis had a good series against the Indians, but he's hitting .236/.266/.416.
The corner outfield, aside from David Lough, has been a black hole.
And the bench still includes Emmanuel Burriss.
I don't think it's hard to imagine some of these guys putting up better numbers - even if it's just slightly - in May and beyond.
Then there's the real chance the team brings up someone like Nick Williams later this season. He's been on quite a tear in AAA. While I hope he gets more seasoning, the current outfield's production means we'll start hearing more and more calls to promote him.
So when you take all of this into consideration, when do we start thinking this year's Phillies might be a much better team than expected?
They're through 15 percent of the season. They'll be at .500 at least through 18.5 percent of the season.
Do you change your expectations at any point before Memorial Day, May 30?
Do you have to wait until the All Star break, July 11?
Will you be skeptical until the trade deadline?
We've seen Phillies teams play above their head that late into the season before collapsing. Just think of the 1999 squad.
Yeah, this is a nice stretch of baseball for a very flawed team. And I'm going to enjoy it while I can.
My prediction is that this team will remain above .500 until Memorial Day, when they'll really start to capture some attention.
But I just don't see it lasting much longer unless this offense improves.
That said, if they're going to make it to Memorial Day, they'll have to continue their good run through St. Louis.
Monday, May 2: 8:15
Tuesday, May 3: 8:15
Wednesday, May 4: 8:15
Thursday, May 5: 1:45
Jeremy Hellickson (2-1, 3.81) vs Adam Wainwright (1-3, 7.16)
Aaron Nola (1-2, 3.55) vs Michael Wacha (2-1, 3.07)
Adam Morgan (0-0, 5.40) vs Mike Leake (0-3, 5.40)
Jerad Eickhoff (1-3, 4.15) vs Jamie Garcie (1-2, 3.73)
What to know about the Cardinals
As surprisingly good as the Phillies have been, the Cardinals have been surprisingly mediocre. Expected to contend for a playoff berth, the Cardinals instead are 12-13.
You might think that's because they've played the Cubs a lot. It's not. They've only faced their division rivals three times. They did, however, get swept by the Nationals and Pirates. But most of their games have actually come against mediocre or worse teams. The Diamondbacks (4), Braves (3), Reds (3), Brewers (3) and Padres (3) have made up most of their schedule, None of those teams are above .500.
Individually, they've been erratic. Adam Wainwright has been an ace for the better part of a decade, but has struggled mightily in the early goings.
Mike Leake has been hit around, too. The Phillies will miss Carlos Martinez, who has been the best starter for the team so far.
Offensively, Yadier Molina has been a beast, hitting .329 with a .412 on-base percentage. Aledmys Diaz has been one of the best hitters on the planet, hitting .405/.436/.703.
Meanwhile Randal Grichuk is hitting .179 with limited power and Kolten Wong has hit .232/.308/.232. Then there is Jeremy Hazelbaker, who already has five home runs.
Ryan Howard eats up the Cardinals when he plays in his home town. This should be interesting to watch. He's had an interesting start to the season. He's got 5 home runs, which is solid. He's also got 7 walks. He had a grand total of 28 last year. He's on pace for 45. If he can have a productive series in St. Louis, the Phillies should be able to take a few games.
What we can't wait to see
Can the Phillies extend their winning streak to seven games? They're facing a guy with a very good pedigree who is looking to bounce back from a terrible string of starts. Meanwhile, Hellickson has had a decent start to the season and his performance has been crucial to the Phillies early success.
If he can give them another chance for a victory as they start this series, Mackanin's boys might just have another good road trip.